Accessing Biblical Hebrew and Polytonic Greek via Braille Display and Synthetic Speech Output

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

This page includes information for:

Please also consult the page regarding writing in Hebrew and Greek using your keyboard.

JAWS Screen Reader and Biblical Languages

Please note: If you are using an older version of JAWS and have experienced difficulty with display of Hebrew, an upgrade would be beneficial at this time.. JAWS 16 and later users living in the U.S. who need Hebrew support can contact Freedom Scientific for information to obtain support for Hebrew. You will still need a modified table because the tables supplied with JAWS do not include support for the full range of biblical Hebrew and Greek characters. I hope that one day this problem will be rectified.

In the JAWS screen reader, the display of characters in braille is controlled through the use of braille tables, files that instruct the program regarding the relationship of computer characters called Unicode characters and braille dots. Unicode is a system that enables computers to display a standard group of characters in a particular way regardless of what operating system is used or what program is running.

If you wish to install my table, first back up your own. (See below for detailed instructions.) This will allow you to reinstall your old table if you need to do so at some point. If you lose your table, the only way to recover it is to reinstall JAWS. Then you may download mine and copy it to your JAWS programs folder.

Right click to download. Table last modified 08/21/2016. Updates will be posted as they become available.

Note: In order to access this file, you need to be able to see and work with system-level program files. These files are hidden by default. Additionally, you need to be able to identify the correct file by its extension (the .jbt part). The following steps will make this possible.

  • Open the control panel and go to folder options. (If you are in Windows 7 and your control panel is arranged by category, click on appearance and then on folder options.
  • Go to the view tab.
  • In the tree view,
    • Check “show hidden files and folders.” In Windows 7 this automatically turns off “don’t show hidden files and folders.” In XP, you must uncheck this box.
    • Uncheck “hide extensions for known filetypes.”
    • Uncheck “hide protected operating system files.”

Note: Screen readers may announce that a checked item is “on” and an unchecked item is “off.”

Note: After implementing these changes, it will be possible to delete important files that Windows needs in order to function correctly. If you do not trust yourself in this area, reverse these changes after setting up the JAWS table. If you leave the changes in place, be very careful what you delete.

Instructions for Installing the Table by Operating System

Windows XP

  • To locate US_Unicode.jbt in Windows XP, go to C:Program FilesFreedom ScientificJAWSX [x is the number of the JAWS version you are using (e.g. 12.0). If you installed JAWS in a different folder, use the explore JAWS option in the start menu to locate your program folder.
  • Rename the current US_Unicode.jbt to US_Unicode.old
  • Copy the downloaded US_Unicode.jbt into the JAWS program folder.
  • Restart JAWS.

Windows 7 and Later

  • Go to the start menu and explore JAWS to locate and open the program folder.
  • Rename the current US_Unicode.jbt to US_Unicode.old
  • Copy the downloaded US_Unicode.jbt into the JAWS program folder.
  • Press alt+u from the JAWS window to open the utilities menu.
  • Go to settings center and press enter.
  • Set braille translation mode to computer braille.
  • Restart JAWS.

Troubleshooting Problems with Display of Hebrew and Greek

A most important note as of 2012: JAWS 13 through 15 do not support Hebrew. The braille table still works in JAWS 12, though the right to left support is very clunky. Greek support is not impeded in JAWS 13 and later; but it is better to use the Windows 7 polytonic Greek keyboard for input rather than the Logos Greek keyboard on Windows 64 bit systems.

If you have installed a working version of JAWS and Hebrew characters are still not displaying correctly in MicroSoft Word 2007, do the following:

  • Go to the ribbon by pressing alt, then use the left arrow key to move to Office.
  • Move first down once and then up until you locate Word options. Press enter.
  • Move down to advanced.
  • Press the tab key until you locate the checkbox that says diacritics. Check the diacritics box and then move to ok. Press enter to exit.

Also:

  • Press F2, go to Settings Center, open Text Processing/General.
  • Make sure that the following are all checked:
    • detect languaged
    • generalize dialect
    • enhanced edit support
  • Finally, be sure that caps lock is off when typing in Hebrew.
  • The display of characters in Hebrew and Greek may also be negatively affected by the use of fonts that don’t support Unicode characters. A number of Unicode fonts are available. To display Greek characters, a font which supports precomposed diacritics may be needed. I have used Cardo, Gentium, and Ariel Unicode, all of which support both Greek with precomposed diacritics and Hebrew. If you are technically inclined, do some research and try some fonts. BibleWorks fonts, e.g. BWHebb do not support Unicode, and the BW keyboards will generate gibberish with JAWS.

    A final note regarding the display of Hebrew characters in braille using JAWS 16 and 17: when Hebrew is inverted for display in braille, some of the characters are displayed with slight variances from what we would expect in hardcopy (e.g. dagheshes to the right instead of to the left of their consonants, shin and sin displayed as two sets of dot patterns, etc. These variances are caused by Unicode problems–the characters in question are created by the compiling of two characters into one; and in the inversion the characters are broken into their separate components.

    NVDA Screen Reader

    The NVDA screen reader currently supports modern Hebrew and Greek only, in other words no vowels or diacritics. NVDA cannot be individually customized like JAWS. It is possible to purchase a synthetic voice that will read Hebrew aloud with NFDA.

    Iphone and IPAD

    For IPhone and IPAD users, Voiceover in IOS 8 and later supports Hebrew. To enable this, go to settings/general/accessibility/voiceover/speech, and double tap Add New Language. On this screen, double tap Hebrew. The voice Carmit will be added. If you wish to switch to the premium version of this voice, double tap More Info, Hebrew, Israel. On this screen, choose Enhanced Quality.

    Mac and Biblical Languages

    For Mac users, OS X Yosemite and later provide Voiceover support for Hebrew. Braille display of Hebrew provides some support for vowel pointing but does not support the sheva or daghesh. If you study Biblical Hebrew, you will need to understand these characters. There are several options available for handling this situation.

    Whether you are sighted or blind, there are aspects of writing Hebrew on the Mac that you will want to take into account. Please see writing in Hebrew on the Mac for more information.

    If you are a Mac user who is blind and you wish to learn Biblical languages, you are welcome to contact me to discuss strategies.

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